'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Perpetual Warfare State 

The leadership of the United States is bent upon proving that the truth of the old anarchist maxims about the relationship of the state to violence, as concisely articulated by Randolph Borne: War is essentially the health of the state. One cannot access any news source in the US without being confronted with stories about US military actions in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya, with articles about the prospects for an attack upon Iran appearing periodically. Curiously, the occupation of Iraq is downplayed, probably because of an interest in falsely persuading the public that this conflict has been brought to an end.

I am just over 50 years old, old enough to recall the latter stages of the Vietnam War, and I have never lived through a period in which US military operations were so ubiquitious, a period in which political figures and the media emphasize recourse to the violence of the US military as the primary, most effective means of imposing docility among those opposed to the US. In most instances, the possibility of resolving disputes through negotiation is derided, usually by villifying the leaders that we would have to speak with, Chavez, Ahmanijedad, Gaddafi, Hussein, the Taliban, among others. Anyone who refuses to play along with this polarizing binary opposition finds themselves subject to villification to varying degrees as well, as indicated by the surly treatment of Putin, Schroeder, Erdogan and Lula.

It is superficially tempting to ascribe this intolerance to the Israelification of US foreign policy, a process by which the global objectives of Israel and the US and the means by which they should be attained, appear more and more congruent. Superficially tempting, but false. First of all, as reflected by the most important, most enduring utterance of George W. Bush, it was the US that summarized its policies post-9/11 as You are either with us or against us. Bush's concise expression of policy had many influences with roots in American culture and politics, especially in regard to the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans on the frontier and imperial expansion in the Caribbean and East Asia. Bush's response echoed the jingoism that erupted after a border fight in disputed territory in Texas in 1845 and the explosion upon the Maine in Cuba in 1898. The objectives of his war on terror are remarkably similar to those of the US military during the Spanish American War. Just as the peoples of the Phillippines were initially described as victims of oppression, only to be subsequently maligned as ungrateful primitives when they sought independence from the US upon the defeat of Spain, the people of Iraq were subjected to the same perverse media manipulation.

Hence, Israel fits into this narrative as a projected colonial outpost, one that, as explained by the Retort collective, serves as an example of something more American than the US, a purer representation of our past ideals and willingness to put those ideals into practice through action. It is, in essence, the frontier transposed, from the prairies, the Rockies and the deserts of the western US to Palestine. If John Ford and John Wayne were alive and filmed The Searchers today, Wayne's character, Ethan Edwards, would be searching for his niece in either Palestine or the greater Arab and Muslim world beyond it. For it is the wilds of Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan that are desperately in need of pacification, and thus, full incorporation into the modern world of capitalist production and commodification. From a psychological perpective, a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians would be devastating blow to the American political psyche, as it would contradict one of the essential aspects of American exceptionalism, the necessity of forcibly imposing order and rationality to the frontier.

Bourne correctly observed that the state perpetuates itself and its control over its citizens through violence, but did not recognize that it frequently requires the permanent urgency of bringing order to a chaotic, elastic frontier to justify it. Of course, the US is not the only example of this phenomenon. One need only look to the Han Chinese empire, the British empire, the creation and expansion of the German state in the 19th and 20th centuries and the suppression of indigenous peoples in Central and South America for other ones. Within this context, there is a perverse logic to the recent public statements of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Last week, he was interviewed on National Public Radio:

And the Pentagon chief, who retires later this month, says that even as the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan hopefully wind down, there will be no shortage of threats for the U.S. military to be preparing for.

There are Iran and North Korea, he notes. Also, you have a very aggressive weapons building program in China and revolutions throughout the Middle East.

The U.S. military has never been at a loss in being told to find things to do," he says. They've always had a full menu.

Leaving aside Gates' oversimplification of American history in regard to the military, there's always an ever-shifting frontier of threat, of non-conformity, that must be addressed through military force. Interestingly, the paradox here is that the frontier must never be eliminated, it must instead evolve and transform, there must always be an us and a them, otherwise the US military would have no reason to exist.

Gates pursued this logic earlier today in a speech before representatives of the NATO countries in Brussels:

Three weeks before standing down as Pentagon head and retiring from decades at the heart of the US security establishment, Gates used a 20-minute valedictory speech in Brussels to read the riot act to a stunned elite audience of European officers, diplomats, and officials.

Nato had degenerated into a two-tiered alliance of those willing to wage war and those only interested in talking and peacekeeping, he fumed in his bluntest warning to the Europeans in nearly five years as the Pentagon head.

Washington's waning commitment to European security could spell the death of the alliance, he said. The speech was laced with exasperation with and contempt for European defence spending cuts, inefficiencies, and botched planning.

The Libya mission was a case in point, Gates said, pointing out that the Anglo-French-led campaign was running out of munitions just weeks into operations against an insubstantial foe. The US had again had to come to the rescue of the Europeans in a campaign on Europe's shores and deemed to be of vital interest to the Europeans, he complained.

As reported, Gates' remarks are striking. His condemnation of countries only interested in talking echoes back to the colonization of English colonies of North America. Talking is, at best, time wasting, at worst, a refusal to take action against obvious enemies, back then, usually Native Americans, now Arabs, Muslims and other dark-skinned people. Talking never gets you anywhere, but your fists and your guns, do. His comments about the Libyan campaign are a reflection of historic American arrogance. No one can calm the frontier like the US, and when others try to do so, they need the Americans to bail them out.

Beyond this, Gates is frustrated that the Europeans don't understand that permanence of the frontier of threat and the importance of allocating resources to address it. Perhaps, this is because the countries of Europe face a more immediate peril from people unwilling to accept the evisceration of social welfare programs to pay for the speculative losses of bankers and increased defense spending in support of endless American military operations. In Europe, unlike the US, the preservation of state authority is coming into question.

Labels: , , , , , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?